Category Archives: Dining Out

Domo Arigato Blu Fish Bistro

Japanese restaurants are among the safer places for vegans to choose when dining out. Miso soup, salad with citrus-ginger dressing, tofu and/or veggie makis, udon, etc… all goodies to choose from. When I’m at work and am craving sushi for lunch, I’m glad that I can hit up Blu Fish Bistro.

Blu Fish has a Vegetable Bento for $10 at lunch, which includes your choice of soup or salad. The miso soup is very good: let’s face it. It’s kinda hard to screw up miso soup. If you choose salad, you won’t be sorry. The house dressing is very fresh and tasty.

The bento includes veggie tempura (traditional tempura is vegan but egg is sometimes used; ask if you want to be sure), fried rice, your choice of 3-piece mushroom or asparagus roll, and fried tofu with a sweet/spicy sauce served over a bed of vegetables. Unlike most tempura sauces I’ve had, the tempura dipping sauce at blu fish is thick and flavorful. I love it. I don’t know what secret sauce they use for the tofu, but it’s perfectly sweet with a little kick. The paper-thin slices of avocado and tomato between the tofu slices are a nice touch.

Non-vegans should be happy about the quality of the food and the freshness of the fish. I’ll also say, for the record, that they have one of the best California rolls I’ve ever had. But those were in the pre-vegan days. If we ever go to Blu Fish together, I will watch you eat a California roll.

I love it when I can enjoy a vegan restaurant meal! Domo arigato! –Melissa

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Adventures in Dining Out: Noon-O-Kabab

Noon-O-Kabab has been one of my favorite Chicago restaurants for several years. It’s a Persian restaurant in the Albany Park neighborhood. It’s grown in size and even has a separate location a few doors down for carry-out orders. My usual order at Noon-O-Kabab was their excellent Lamb Shank, cooked and seasoned to perfection. Other favorites were their rib eye and seasoned ground sirloin. Obviously, I had to find something new to try when I went there for dinner recently.

I’m usually disappointed when I figure out what my limited choices are at a restaurant, but I knew Noon-O-Kabab wouldn’t let me down. They have a handful of vegetarian and vegan options, plus several vegan-friendly appetizers. I chose the Adass Polo: a mix of lentils, raisins, caramelized onions, saffron and Persian barberry served with Persian white rice.

You guys, this was excellent. The rice alone is worth the trip, and you can rest easy knowing that they don’t use butter in their cooking. The mix of lentils with raisins and saffron and the barberry gives the dish an sweet and somewhat tangy mix of flavors. It was served with grilled tomato, onion, and bell pepper. I’m looking forward to trying to make this in my own kitchen.

All my dining experiences at Noon-O-Kabab have been pleasant and there are a few servers who have been there since I first went there years ago. The food is always fresh, the restaurant is casual but cozy, and the demographic of the diners is always diverse. As the restaurant has grown, the quality of the food has remained high.

I’m looking forward to trying out another vegan dish next time I go to Noon-O-Kabab. If you’re in the Chicago area, try it out! –Melissa

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The Celebration Continues!

I’m still in celebration mode about the blog turning six months this week. I’m also celebrating some awesome stuff that happened at work today! Therefore, this post will be a little sparse. I’m too busy celebrating.

Margarita, sangria, chips and salsa and guacamole! Woohoo! Happy Hour: vegan style.

Salud, everyone! –Melissa

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Vegan Goodies at O’Hare Part 2: Eggplant Parmesan

Last week, I wrote about how I stumbled upon a great spot for vegans at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and reviewed the Grilled Southwest Tofu Wrap. Today, I’d like to tell you about the other prepared food that I purchased: Vegan Eggplant Parmesan.

It wasn’t the most photogenic food, but goodness it was delicious — “gross-looking but tasty” has been a theme this week. I have to admit that I was skeptical. I have had vegan pasta dishes before where tofu subbed in for cheese, but I hadn’t had any worth blogging about.

As you can see, there aren’t that many ingredients. My first bite served as an acclimation to the non-cheese taste. My second bite was better. By my third, I was in love with it. Unlike traditional parmesan dishes, it wasn’t bready, greasy or saucy. It was almost like a light and creamy vegan cake with soft layers of fresh eggplant and perfectly made vegan cheese. It had a great texture to it, and I would have sworn that the cheese was tofu-based if I didn’t see in the ingredients list that it was soy milk-based.

I got three meals out of the 10oz container, which made it worth the price. As a reminder, I found this in the AIRPORT! Unbelievable. I am actually sad to know that my next planned flight will be out of a different terminal, so I won’t be visiting Cibo Express.

There are still more goodies from the airport and Toronto that I’ll tell you about soon, and they’re all snack items. Yay! –Melissa

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Third World Vegan? Challenge Accepted!

We took a short trip to Nicaragua to visit an old friend and enjoy some sun and surf over the last weekend. I usually travel with snacks because you never know what kind of restaurant you’ll end up at but this is a whole different ball of wax. We managed to eat vegan and eat well the whole time we were there but there was certainly some difficulty. I’m pretty happy about the outcome.

Nicaragua is not a rich nation by any standard. The water isn’t safe to drink. The toilets won’t process paper. The power is more likely to go out than not. This being the status quo, the locals were surprised that someone would turn down good food of any sort. This highlights that being vegan or vegetarian is a choice and one that I’m lucky and grateful to have.

Beer is usually vegan but some varieties are filtered with isinglass, otherwise known as fish bladders. I’m a big fan of Corona. My gluten sensitivity is (fortunately) limited to wheat and typically not wheat hybrids. This being the case, most beer doesn’t bother me though I do drink it sparingly and avoid hybrids like rye and barley in food. If you’re curious I recommend checking Barnivore’s website for your favorite alcoholic beverage. The local rum, Flor de Caña, is both delicious and vegan so that was on the menu.

Fortunately, lentils are readily available and delicious along with the local rum. Brent and I concocted a hearty and spicy lentil chili, curried chickpeas, split red lentil soup, and a gigantic shepherdless pie (above). Each dish was enough to satisfy several hungry surfers and compliment the local rum. We cooked on a propane powered double burner and used whatever tools and spices were lying around. It was definitely a challenge but now I don’t have an excuse for not eating vegan when I’m traveling and have access to a kitchen. I find when I’m faced with the option of eating something non-vegan, it really comes down to whether or not it will taste good enough to keep me from feeling guilty later. The answer is (up to this point) “No,” but I also don’t always know what I’m missing (like raw fish versus the avocado nigiri and veggie roll, pictured below).

This is probably a good follow up to Melissa’s post about the leniency we allow ourselves in matters of dietary restriction. I would sum it up in an anecdote. My Dad once asked me if he’d live longer if he eliminated cholesterol from his diet completely. I told him, “I don’t know about that, but it’ll certainly seem longer.” Do what works for you, use your own conscience, and don’t forget to enjoy your life. That’s the most important thing as far as I’m concerned.

This is Christie and Brent, signing off!

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Vegan Goodies At … O’Hare? Yes!

It’s weird to think that I may have found a tiny vegan mecca at O’Hare, but I totally did. In a place where true vegan options are limited to icky-looking salad and… well, that’s it, I was thrilled to find Cibo Express in Terminal 3. I discovered it while walking out of the terminal after my flight home yesterday. It’s a bit tucked away in an area with less traffic, which is why I didn’t see it before. I wish I had seen it when I was stuck in the airport for two hours last Friday!

In addition to a wide variety of snacks, treats, fruit and drinks, Cibo Express has several prepared vegan foods by Soul Gourmet, a company whose prepared foods you can often find in local Whole Foods stores. There was a Jerusalem Steak sandwich, Buffalo Tofu, Vegan Root Salad and several other vegan options. There were also non-vegan options like your usual turkey and tuna sandwiches, which looked really great. I went with the Grilled Southwest Tofu Wrap, pictured above.

Whoa. This was tangy and delicious (and fatty, but I could only handle half in one sitting). The tofu had a great texture and didn’t have that tofu taste. In fact, I think this could have fooled a carnivore. I’m pretty weary of airport foot in general, but I found the wrap and its innards to be really fresh (and I picked it up at about 8pm). I also picked up the Vegan Eggplant Parmesan. The best by date on is May 9, which is a little scary, but I’m also confident that it will still be in top shape when I try it tomorrow (and I will certainly report my thoughts on this here blog). I was just super jazzed to find this place. If I hadn’t, I would be blogging about how I ate super size fries for dinner last night.

I picked up some other treats both in the airport and in Toronto, which is where I was over the weekend. I can’t wait to try all my new vegan goodies and share my thoughts with you!

What vegan-friendly gems have you discovered in an airport? Let me know! –Melissa

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Being Vegan in Public

Today I will recount the painful tale of my worst experience being a vegan in public. This story is meant as a cautionary tale to vegans and non-vegans alike that there’s nothing wrong with having one eating habit or another and to emphasize the importance of being a good host and a good guest.

I went to a surprise 30th birthday party at a friend’s Mom’s house. I called the week before to RSVP and warned her mom that I’m vegan and gluten free, knowing that the cake was from Rachel’s (name changed to protect the innocent) favorite Cheesecake Factory and ice cream. Her Mom sort of hemmed and hawed until I offered, “I’ll eat beforehand and bring a snack.” She seemed enthused about this compromise so I proceeded as normal.

On the day of the party, I showed up, did the surprise and entertainment business and mingled with mutual friends. Finally it was cake time and I sat down with a plastic baggie of trail mix and a bottle of tea and began to contentedly munch away. Her mom made a bee line for me, locking onto my non-cheesecake, non-ice cream and non-soda snack and asked what I was doing and wasn’t I going to have any cake.

Me: (confused) I called you ahead and told you I’m vegan and gluten-intolerant.

Her: That’s just one of those weird fad diets. You’re not even fat. It’s okay just to cheat this once.

Me: No, I’m afraid it’s not.

Her: Don’t you know it’s bad luck if you don’t eat birthday cake?

Me: It’s bad luck for me to eat gluten, dairy, and eggs.

Her: Come on, it’s a special occasion.

Me: No, thank-you.

Her: Seriously, you’re not going to have any cheesecake.

Me: No, thank-you.

Her: Well, please put your junk food away. You’re making a scene.

The entire room was completely silent and everyone was looking at us. The birthday girl, sitting adjacent to me was bright red having heard the entire conversation. I put my snack in my bag and fought back tears. Rachel excused herself, grabbed her bag and LEFT the party. Her mother shot lightning bolts from her eyeballs at me once more, heaved and exasperated sigh, reminiscent of distant thunder and left to serve herself a generous slice of cookies n’ cream cheesecake. I started worrying that I had upset my good friend and ruined her very special day. Fellow uncomfortable party goers tried to smooth things over, asking me questions like, “Can’t you have the soda?”, “Why don’t you just eat the top part of the cheesecake?” “Ice cream isn’t dairy, is it?”  and so forth.By this time my appetite was completely gone and I had actually begun to feel sick.

About 15 minutes later, the birthday girl reappeared. She dug into the depths of her handbag and handed me a pint of Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream. I gave her a huge hug and thanked her and apologized for making so much trouble. She apologized for her mother who openly admonished Rachel for apologizing, leaving the party and letting her guests [me] make a scene. I felt slightly less small but knew I would never forget that day.

I suspect most vegans will have a story like mine or this one. I hope that you can use your experience to strengthen your resolve and stick by your decision. If you’re depressed after reading this, feel free to check out defensive omnivore bingo . This is a game that can make just about any party or family gathering bearable.

This is Christie, signing off.

When the best things on the table are vegan

More confession time: I ate chicken for dinner last night. It was Day 1 in Orlando, and we went to a place called Pio Pio on International Drive for dinner. I didn’t take any pictures because I knew I was going to have meat, and I didn’t think I would have anything to say about it on this here blog. Boy, was I wrong! Thank goodness for other pictures on the Internet. Hope no one minds if I use them here (blah blah DISCLAIMER blah blah THESE ARE NOT MY OWN PHOTOS blah blah WILL TAKE THEM DOWN IF YOU REQUESTED BY THE OWNER).

Let me first say that the chicken, if you’re into that sort of thing, is definitely worth writing home about. But the real star of the evening were the ripe plantains. I’ve had plantains at other restaurants and at home, but these are by far the BEST I have had outside of ones freshly made at home. Oh my gosh, I need to wipe the drool off my chin after just thinking about them. This photo does NOT do it justice! The rice and beans were amazing as well. They don’t skimp on the garlic and seasoning.

One of the other really amazing side dishes that we ordered was boiled cassava (yuca) cooked with garlic and onions. You could smell the garlic in the steam. The yuca was fresh–I would love to try and replicate this at home, but the quality of the yuca makes a big difference, and there’s maybe a week out of the year that we can find yuca this fresh in Chicago.

Between the rice, cassava, plantains, beans, and accompanying sauces (a very spicy salsa verde and a very tasty garlic aioli), I could have had a delicious and very satisfying vegan dinner. There’s a lesson here: think outside the meat on the menu! Check out the side dishes. And while yuca and plantains aren’t anything new to me, I think it warrants saying that you should try new things.

Other notes on the restaurant… I had a glass of sangria that was really sweet and tasty. The food came out really fast and the servers were very attentive with refills and by checking in on us. Their homemade juice drinks seemed to be just as popular as their sangria. We noticed quite a few people getting takeout. There is a lot on the menu including several other side dishes and many vegan options overall.

Do you have any restaurant stories from a vegan perspective that you would like to share? Click on the Contact page to get in touch with us! As for me, I’m looking forward to three more days of vacation and more food stories to share. Wish me fun! –melissa

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No Cheese on Those Veggie Tacos, Please

Dining out has become, well, interesting since I decided to change my diet. Elimination of dairy alone drastically cuts down my choices. A trip to the cafeteria at work has become depressing and almost maddening, but I have managed. The foods I have been able to get include:

  • lentil soup–vegetarian but probably not vegan
  • build your own salad–I already miss ranch dressing and I had a super gassy afternoon from all the beans I added
  • waffle fries
  • grilled vegetables

I’m giving myself slack when it comes to meat, so I’ve also had a gyros without tzatziki sauce, and a roast beef panino with no cheese. I had to turn down an invitation to go out to lunch last week because the restaurant the group was going to had no desirable menu options that didn’t have cheese.

I went to the Yardhouse today, which is one of my favorite spots. Great atmosphere, huge menu, lots of beers to choose from. I perused the menu before my visit. I couldn’t have any my usual choices: tortilla soup, spicy Thai chicken pizza (even though they offer a chicken substitute), mac and cheese, classic sliders. So, today, I opted for the Hongos y Rajas tacos, which have shiitake mushrooms, roasted pasilla peppers and grilled onions with lemon sriracha aïoli, jack, feta, avocado and red chili threads:

These were delicious! I’m gonna guess that they aren’t vegan, but I’m really jazzed about them. Truthfully, I never would have ordered these before. An added bonus is that I haven’t tried them with the cheese, so I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

It’s interesting how differently I look at menus now. A lot of restaurants are great at pointing out vegetarian or gluten-free options, but I mostly have to study the ingredients of a dish to determine if it’s vegan. I won’t get complainy about it. Many people “choose” to be vegetarian for cultural or religious reasons. Allergies can’t be helped and reactions can be life-threatening. But vegan diets? I am thinking that it will be some time before menus point out vegan dishes. All I really want is a server who won’t get confused if I ask whether or not something is vegan or if they have a cheese substitute.

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